For every Ombuds I know, 2020 was challenging and chaotic year, both personally and professionally. No doubt, people will be telling their stories of loss and survival in the years to come. Nonetheless, there were several positive trends in the field that portend good things for the future of the field.
Signs of Hope
Professional Associations Continue to Create Ombuds Programs
American nonprofit organizations for academics and researchers continued their trend of creating Organizational Ombuds programs to address misbehavior among members and conference attendees. IOA now has guidance for organizations and has even hired its own Ombuds. Two surprise additions to this broad category were Ombuds appointed by progressive political parties in Austria and Germany.
University Ombuds in Netherlands Reach a Tipping Point
Although the Dutch minister of education refused to endorse legislation in January that would require Ombuds in higher ed, many universities have created new programs on their own initiative in the past couple of years. By May, a leading labor union and four universities updated their collective bargaining agreement, which will lead to new Ombuds for staff. The Dutch Association of Higher Education Ombudsmen launched its website listing nearly two dozen members. Meanwhile, new offices continue to open at universities and there are bound to be more.
IOA Pivots to a Virtual Platform
After the pandemic wiped out its two primary revenue sources (the annual conference and in-person training), IOA poured its efforts into creating new online content. The virtual version of Foundations was designed to be offered to smaller groups more quickly. It has been sold out since it launched in October. IOA's 2020 conference was replaced by an ad hoc collection of programs and community meetings, but the conference in 2021 promises to be a full-realized online event.
Tech Companies Poised to Lead Next Wave of Programs
For years, Ombuds and software industry insiders have wondered why there are so few Ombuds in the high tech sector. (Experts recommended an Ombuds for Uber in 2017, for example, but the company never took the advice. SAP may be the leading exception.) That may be changing. In 2020, TYPO3, a leading content management system, and social media giants, Twitter and Pinterest, said they would be hiring their first Ombuds soon. Meanwhile, Joomla and the World Wide Web Consortium, started to consider moving their existing Ombuds to IOA standards.